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Love Story?

In the not-too-distant future, Brokeback Mountain is going to be released on DVD, and it will probably win some Oscars, too. There will be a lot of talk about why this movie is such a big deal. As Daniel Mendelsohn points out in his essay on the reception of Brokeback Mountain (NYRB, LIII.3), much of this talk will be anxiously wrong-headed. The next time you catch someone in the act of assuring others that Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two lovers who just happen to be men, cough discreetly. Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two lovers who have been brought up to hate their love and to hate themselves for loving as they do. It is a story of the closet: of denial and repression and strangled family life. It's not the love-story part of Brokeback Mountain that makes for great film, but the long aftermath of furtive coupling and feigned romance. Mr Mendelsohn concludes:

The real achievement of Brokeback Mountain is not that it tells a universal love story that happens to have gay characters in it, but that it tells a distinctively gay story that happens to be so well told that any feeling person can be moved by it. If you insist, as so many have, that the story of Jack and Ennis is OK to watch and sympathize with because they're not really homosexual - that they're more like the heart of America than like "gay people" - you're pushing them back into the closet whose narrow and suffocating confines Ang Lee and his collaborators have so beautifully and harrowingly exposed.

In short, the "universal love story" approach simply doesn't hold up. Maybe it's useful as a permission for otherwise homo-averse people to see the movie. Certainly the film has done almost everything to shield tender sensibilities from direct contact with actual true love between two men, and perhaps we're still at the stage where it would have been foolhardy rather than courageous to cast openly gay actors. Having seen the movie, however, viewers ought to find the "beautiful love story" thumbnail empty and unfeeling.

This brings The Family Stone to mind. I've seen it again, and liked it even more - and decided for certain that the dinner-table scene will prove to be an important one for people to talk about. As Kathleen said afterward, of course Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) is right to say that no parent would wish a child to shoulder the burdens imposed on homosexuality in today's society (lightened though these may have been). But she is an ass not to recognize that the Stone family has created a world in which those burdens simply don't exist. It is not hard to imagine that sensitive parents would bend over backward to accommodate the needs of a deaf child, but it's not necessary to ask why it is that Sybil and Kelly Stone have flushed away any and every trace of reproach or disregard for the sexual preference of their son, Thad (Ty Giordano). (Kathleen didn't even recognize that Thad and Patrick (Brian White) were lovers until well into the action.) All we need to know - and what we take away from the dinner table - is that we're striving for a world in which Meredith's position really is nonsensical. A world in which Ennis Del Mar would grow up unashamed to love another boy. The more indignantly the high priests point to their sacred texts in support of their anathemas and abominations, the more clearly we see that their world makes no sense.


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RJ, this is the most pithy and elegant interpretation of this film and its issues I've run across. I wish I could have had the acumen to express it half as well myself. I will share it with my friends and relay their reactions. When I saw the film in South Beach with my long-closeted best friend, I was amazed, given the publicity and criticism, at the anguish suffered by the wives by their respective husbands being forced to live, by a brutally unforgiving society, in denial of their true identities and a love of a lifetime. Yes, their story was tragic; but the repercussions were just as bad. Indeed, this is less a love story and more a story about repression, its toxicity, and our fears of "other".

All seriousness aside Brokeback to the Future as NPR reports today is a must see spoof for anyone who has seen Brokeback Mountain. For the movie I will have to wait for the DVD but for the spoof tomorrow I'll hit the high speed connection at the library. DSL is on the way to my remote area but Brokeback at the ciné might be a long, long time away. In a serious vein, I wish I had a good answer to "like me" and "not like me" and all the grief it entails in every venue but I'm still trying to formulate the question in a broader scope than just sexual preference. Perhaps, like water slowly eroding stone Brokeback Mountain will add to the wearing down of the stony matrix of intolerance in which we all find ourselves embedded everyday. Good to have you back at the desk in Yorkville continuing your daily gentle rain of insight on the stone work of my days.

“The Family Stone” is adequate as a made-for-tv-movie, with one saving grace: Sarah Jessica Parker’s scene. (Perhaps the reason Kathleen did not perceive the deaf son and his partner as gay is because they were so neutered so as not to offend moviegoers.)

You are on target that the compelling moment is when she blurts out that no one would want their child to be gay given the obstacles faced in this world. It reminded me, for the first time in years, of a discussion I had with my Mother about my being gay and working on Wall Street. (This was something I could not discuss with my homophobic father.) I asked her if she had any idea of what it was like to have to lie, be worried about being found out, all the pretense, etc., and what toll it took on me. I said my being gay is simply who I was, it was not a choice, that somehow I had chosen a career where being a manly man was and still is a virtue and that I would simply deal with the rest of the shit that went with it as best I could—like so many other men and women before me. And that it was a crime that I/we had to. It was and is an un-necessary burden imposed by a very fucked-up society.

Having seen the movie twice, and having read the book and now Mendelsohn’s excellent piece, I have given it a bit of a re-think. His point about the closet is well taken and puts into a perspective I hadn’t come from before. Maybe it’s because I am so used to part of my life being in the closet, the fact they had to do it too didn’t seem un-natural, though of course it is. Ennis’ story about seeing the murdered old cowhand reminded me instantly that in “Kinsey” a young man who was interviewed recounted how he and another adolescent boy had been found experimenting sexually and as I remember it he had been beaten and branded by father and brothers.

I guess I am still stunned by the hate and fear that drive people to kill one another over something as elemental as being your own sexual self. I straddle the two gay generations, one in the closet and very proper, and the other, where being out and proud has really advanced the cause of a more tolerant society. It has been a long time since a friend and I were jumped in the Village by some Jersey intellectuals out to re-arrange our heads, a long time since I walked into a bar and wondered if the person I was talking to was an undercover cop or a basher. One thing this movie did was make me think about my past, about the closet, and the sad fact that 40 years later we still have “high priests” who, as RJ wrote, “point to their sacred texts in support of their anathemas…….” Going to give this a think some more. Thanks for pointing out the Mendelsohn piece; I have forwarded it to many people.

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